Judge Brett Cullum looks at The Bretts who for some reason look nothing like him at all.
The first family of the theatre takes on the movies.
The Bretts was a BBC series seen on Masterpiece Theatre in 1987 and 1988. Partially written by one of the authors of Upstairs, Downstairs, the series offered the same sense of upper class versus the rest of society with a peek at the servants.
The Bretts are a theatrical family headed up by Master Charles (Norman Rodway, The Empty Mirror) and his wife Lydia (Barbara Murray, Tales from the Crypt). They are glamorous stars of musical comedies and any sort of grand production found on the stage, but there is a problem. It's the 1920s and movies are on the rise, an art form father wants nothing to do with. So he stubbornly digs in his heels to carry on the tradition of English theatre. Sadly, they can't hold on to it all and still lead the lives to which they have grown accustomed. Adding insult to injury, their son Edwin (David Yelland, Chariots of Fire) has decided to take up a career on the silver screen, much to his financial success. Their daughter Martha (Belinda Lang, Second Thoughts) has taken up the family business of stage acting, but flirted and charmed her way to the middle without much room to move. The Bretts have one more hope, in the guise of their playwright son Thomas (George Winter, Scum) who has written one hit play, but constantly doubts he can produce another.
There is plenty of drama and melodrama to be found with The Bretts. You get to see laughably bad plays starring the parents, counterpoint with quite serious social issues from their children. It devolves frequently into all too familiar soap opera sordid elements, such as secret pregnancies, drug addiction, scam artists, rape, murder, heart attacks, illegitimate children, terrorism from the IRA, fatal illnesses, shattered engagements, illicit affairs, just about anything you would see on Dynasty or Dallas. Yet somehow, this troop makes it all seem just a touch classy. It's certainly an entertaining ride.
Acorn Media's release of The Bretts: The Complete Collection offers nothing new to DVD, other than both years—all 19 episodes spread out over six discs—of the series in one cardboard slipcase. Both runs have been released before, and there are no improvements in the transfer or any new bonus features to be found. The image is decidedly '80s era British television which means we are looking at everything shot on video. The period detail is easily seen, but hardly looks filmic. Clarity is not very high nor is focus, and colors suffer a muted wash. The 2.0 stereo audio is really monaural in delivery, although clear enough to deliver the snappy dialogue. This set gets the job done, but I can't imagine true fans not having already purchased the previous releases. The only extras are some text biographies which give you some ideas of what else the cast has done. Truly the only thing added to this new set are the English subtitles.
The Bretts is a priceless series that should thrill anybody who has been involved in the theatrical arts. The acting is quite convincing, the sets and clothes are brilliant, and the scripts are funny and heartbreaking at the same time. It does feel a little small, given the television era it was produced in, but witty and charming enough to transcend its flat video look. The series is great fun, if you like urbane and arch British humor.
Guilty of running the same show in the same theatre for too long. Thankfully
it still works!
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